The holidays are finally here! I must admit, I am a big fan of the holiday season and all that comes with it. From listening to Christmas carols, to sparkling lights, to sharing meals with friends and family, to exchanging gifts with loved ones – this season has it all. And while I am certainly on board with the spirit of giving, I am also cautious not to conflate it with the over-consumption and excess waste often associated with the holiday season.
In fact, this New York Times article reports that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans produce nearly 25% more waste than they usually do, which works out over one million extra tons of garbage each week.
Some of the lead contributors to this problem are food waste, tinsel, and traditional gift wrap that is pocked with glitter or coated with plastic. According to the article, on average, Americans discard 38,000 miles of ribbon, $11 billion worth of packing material and 15 million live Christmas trees. Yikes.
Since the holidays are about giving, I challenge all readers to give back to the environment by being critical of the way we celebrate the holidays and focusing on sustainability. Here are some helpful tips:
- If you are a last-minute shopper and still have gifts to buy, think local, small shops that support the local economy while emphasizing sustainability
- Wrap your gifts using raw recycled wrapping paper and some twine, or perhaps upcycle things you already have in your home
- Don’t throw out leftovers, ask family members to bring containers and take home as much as they can
- Try to make your own decorations using natural, bio-degradable items such as orange peels and popcorn
- Don’t use plastic cutlery to save time on the post meal clean-up (isn’t that why we have kids?)
- Separate your garbage, recycling, and compostable food items
It’s important to remember that every little bit helps, and less really is more. Taking the time to give back to our environment is a gift that costs you nothing, yet benefits so many living species as well as generations to come.
Wishing you all a happy, safe, and environmentally friendly holiday season.
Thanks for reading!
Over the past few decades, scientists have been sounding the alarm over climate change and the dangers posed to the environment as a result of a variety of human activity. This has led, over time, to the adoption of various practices meant to increase our sustainability and minimize our impact on the environment. Most people probably only consider their day-to-day lives when looking at how they might be more environmentally friendly. However, we might also want to think about the impact our death might have on the environment.
I recently came across this informative video from Vox which discusses the environmental costs of a traditional burial, along with alternatives such as cremation and other more uncommon forms of disposing of human remains:
Some of the negative impacts of burial?
- The use of cement, wood, and metal expended to construct burial plots and coffins;
- The use of space (approximately 32 square feet per person) which must be reserved for a burial plot (and which consequently can’t be used for any other reason); and
- The release of formalin, a toxic carcinogen, along with other untreated waste.
In addition to the environmental costs of burial, the video notes the actual monetary costs of burial, which greatly exceed the costs of cremation.
The video notes that cremation still comes with some costs to the environment, including the release of pollutants (including mercury) and the use of some resources such as natural gas and electricity (from heating the body). Overall, however, cremation appears to be a more environmentally friendly approach to disposing of remains. As a bonus, the video points out some interesting activities that can be done with ashes, such as placing them in fireworks (giving a whole new meaning to the expression ‘going out with a bang’).
For the most environmentally-conscious out there, the video also presents the options of natural burial where non-embalmed bodies are buried in either biodegradable containers or without any form of casket. The body is allowed to decompose naturally such that pollution and resource usage is minimized. More theoretical methods such as breaking down a body frozen in liquid nitrogen or dissolving human tissue in a mix of heated water and lye are also presented.
For anyone curious about the environmental impact of their death, the video is an informative six minute session.
Thanks for reading!
Climate change remains a leading topic of concern – and most of us have at least some awareness of our environmental footprint. Many of us have undertaken actions to reduce it, from energy-efficient light bulbs, to low flush toilets, to hybrid cars.
It’s not a stretch to take green concerns beyond our own lifetimes to our estate plans, because there are actions we can take today in planning that can make an environmental difference after we’re gone.
Here are three actions to consider if “going green” is a meaningful direction for you.
Keep your funeral small
Balancing interests is important, and your funeral or memorial service should reflect your wishes and also the needs of the friends and family you leave behind. But from a green perspective, smaller is better. It means fewer resources used, and less travel taken. It’s a small difference in the scheme of things, but by focusing less on the “show” and more on meeting the grieving needs of those closest to you, a small funeral can be an important symbolic gesture of “less is more.”
Donate to make a difference
One obvious way of supporting green initiatives through your estate plan is by donating to a charity whose mission relates to environmental concerns or sustainability.
A charitable gift at death is more than just a show of generosity and a nice tax break. It provides a powerful example to others of what you value – and can encourage your friends and loved ones to support the same cause, or another one like it.
For that reason, a gift to a charity made through your will should take some thought. There are thousands of organizations to choose from, with varying levels of administrative efficiency and expertise in putting donated money to good use. So, do your homework to ensure that your money – and the money of others who may donate in your name – will be effectively used to further the cause you’re close to.
Use your body for good
If you’re looking for the “leading edge” of alternative, here’s a concept worth considering: turn your body (after death) into a tree by using a biodegradable burial pod. You can read all about the concept here.
If that idea is a little too out there, the Green Burial Council certifies funeral homes, cemeteries, and product providers in North America on green standards relating to burials. By using products and service providers that are certified green, you can help ensure that your passing is a greener one.
Thank you for reading and enjoy the rest of your day.